Few players have reduced the great Roger Federer to a role as secondary attraction on Wimbledon’s Centre Court but for one hour and 25 minutes on Wednesday he had just a walk-on part in the Marcus Willis fairytale.
The seven-time champion enjoys too much deep-rooted affection at the All England Club to be cast as a real pantomime villain, but for once the cheers were all behind the 25-year-old local hero on the other side of the net.
Federer’s 81st Wimbledon match, of course, ended in victory.
Even the most over-egged Hollywood script could not have had him losing to world number 772 Willis, whose transformation from a 30 pounds ($40.30) an hour tennis coach to Wimbledon sensation has captured the imagination of the sporting world.
But the swaggering Swiss was at least made to break sweat under the closed roof before claiming a 6-0 6-3 6-4 victory.
Willis had his photo taken with Federer, 34, before the warm-up and could hardly stop grinning.
He even celebrated a practise serve with a raised fist as his friends went through their song-list at court side.
But when Willis lost the opening set in 25 minutes without managing a game you feared the worst.
So when he did finally trouble the scoreboard, holding serve in the eighth game, the deafening roar rivalled the one heard when fellow Briton Andy Murray ended 77 years of pain by beating Novak Djokovic in the 2013 final.
From then on the quirky left-hander’s unorthodox shots kept 17-times major champion Federer guessing at times, especially his grass-hugging backhand slices and cheeky drop volleys.
“I’ll remember most of the Centre Court matches here at Wimbledon, but this one will stand out because it’s that special and probably not going to happen again for me to play against a guy 770 in the world,” Federer told reporters.